big_shoreline_courthouse
Welcome to Shoreline.

A few months back, I wrote, with much exasperation, about an irritating quirk of King County Metro policy I dubbed the “Shoreline Rule”–the requirement that, without exception, all Metro riders who want to contest a transit infraction drive or, more likely, take the bus all the way to King County District Court in Shoreline. I ended up paying a $124 fine for a ticket I believed should have been a warning, because I didn’t want to take a day off work and because I had the money and privilege to do so. Many others, of course, aren’t so fortunate.

Had I chosen to take the bus to Shoreline, Metro’s Trip Planner tells me the trip would have taken me about an hour and a half on four buses each way. For King County Council member Dave Upthegrove, the trip time from the bus stop a block from his house in Des Moines to Shoreline remains unknown–because, he says, “When I entered my home address and Shoreline District Court into Trip Planner, I got an error message that said, ‘Cannot compute due to more than three hours in transit.’

“I’m not that far out” in King County,” Upthegrove continues. “Imagine all the people in Auburn and Covington. You get out there and it’s a fairly transit-dependent population. The people who can’t pay their bus fare can’t rely on the bus.”

This week, Upthegrove introduced a motion that will amend the Shoreline Rule, eventually, to allow juvenile violators to go to court in Burien, instead of schlepping to Shoreline. According to King County Council staff, 72 percent of juvenile violations occur in South Seattle or South King County, so the Burien relocation makes sense. (Upthegrove’s legislation also recommended ending the practice of treating fare evasion and failure to pay tickets as a criminal infraction; adults can still be charged with a misdemeanor for failure to pay or show up in court.) If the county executive’s office develops the legislation and the council passes it on schedule, the Shoreline Rule, for the 200 or so kids who receive fare evasion tickets each year, will be history sometime in 2016. fare

The same cannot be said of adult offenders, who will still have to schlep to Shoreline to respond to tickets. Upthegrove says his intent is to eventually figure out a way to bring some “geographic equity” to fare enforcement, but that this time, he was just “trying to maintain the political support to get it passed,” because “there was some general uneasiness [on the council] about making it civil, not criminal. The idea was to put the focus on youth now and, when people see that we have real support, it could come back” and apply to adults as well.

It’s worth noting that although the council can pass legislation expressing their “intent” for fare evasion tickets to go to Burien (or downtown Seattle or Issaquah for that matter), the distribution of cases is ultimately up to the presiding judge, currently Donna Tucker, who oversees the court in Shoreline. (Neither Tucker nor King County spokesman Dan Donahoe returned calls for comment). The court is located in county council member (and Democratic Metro contrarian) Rod Dembowski’s district.

“We have the power of the purse–we fund them–but the ultimate decision rests with the district court,” Upthegrove says. “They’re independent elected officials.” Under political pressure from the council, Tucker has agreed to send juvenile cases to Burien, but adult cases–which, at about 5,000 infractions a year, vastly outnumber the juvenile cases–will be heard in Shoreline until the “political support” Upthegrove refers to is strong enough to merit reconsidering the rule for grownups.

“It’s probably trickier because of the volume [of adult infractions], but they recognize and acknowledge there’s a problem and have expressed their commitment to the county council” to address it, Upthegrove says.

For adults, though, moving all the cases to Burien could be as inequitable as the Shoreline Rule. County court records also indicate that adults who receive tickets for fare infractions are distributed fairly evenly across the county: 40 percent in South Seattle and South King County, 40 percent in North Seattle and North King County, and 20 percent in East King County. For these adults, replacing the old Shoreline Rule with a new Burien Rule would only redistribute the burden to North King County residents, forcing them to travel down to South King County to deal with tickets. (Granted, South King County riders are, according to Upthegrove, more likely to be transit-dependent, so Burien probably edges Shoreline out in terms of equity.)

A fair solution might be to hear transit-specific cases in the area in which they occur (or in a central location like downtown Seattle), but that would require rethinking and totally reworking a system in which judges oversee virtual fiefdoms defined by the type of infractions they hear, a system that, Upthegrove says, they argue “allows for more cost-efficient staffing.” That may be true for King County as a whole, but it certainly isn’t true for low-income, transit-dependent Metro riders, who face the choice of paying a stiff penalty for failing to pay full fare or spending the better part of a day traveling to and from court to plead their case.

52 Replies to “Say Goodbye (Sort of) to the Shoreline Rule”

  1. Maybe I haven’t paid attention, but I didn’t realize fare evasion on Metro could be considered a criminal offense. Is the fare evasion treated as criminal, or is disobeying a trespass warning (after accumulating sufficient warnings and citations for fare evasion) treated as a criminal offense?

    If fare evasion (even before the trespass arrest) is a criminal offense, isn’t that different from how Sound Transit handles fare evasion cases?

    1. It’s only technically fare evasion, since these people have a pass but forgot to tap in to Link (or didn’t have time to tap when they were running for a transfer). This will become a much bigger issue when Link becomes a daily mode for more of the population. If people get an average of four tickets a year (not unimaginable if it’s once every months), that’s $496 on top of the $1200 annual cost of the passes, or a 40% surcharge. That will drive people to take buses and avoid Link, and to oppose reorganizing routes that duplicate Link. Just this morning I thought it was a criminal issue, then thought no it can’t be because it’s just a fine, but apparently it is a criminal issue after all, which then could make it difficult to get a job or rent an apartment. It may be time to sent a petition to the county/transit agency leaders that these $124 fines and and fear-causing intimidation must stop, and it’s a big enough issue to make it worth changing how pass revenue is allocated (by aggregate ridership counts rather than individual taps).

      Somebody even asked ST why the fine was so high, and they supposedly replied that it’s not because the act is so egregious or ST desperately needs the money, but just that the courts wouldn’t register a fine less than $124 because it’s too much overhead. That suggests it needs a lower-cost followup process, and that would be worth investing in.

      1. I don’t know whether most appellants are passholders, pay-per-riders who forgot to tap, a combo of the two who lost track of how many times they tapped (which happened to me at lease once, perhaps more if FOE’s with more common sense than the policymakers decided to not push the issue with me as a full-value passholder), or gamers who hoped they would show up and that ST would not so the ticket would get summarily dismissed.

        Regardless, I would urge ST go into a mode for the next year where all that is issued to passholders (day and monthly) is a gentle (and I must emphasize “gentle” as in not a warning) reminder to tap on and off properly. And stay in that mode through at least November 8, 2016. ST has nothing to gain by being pushy with passholders, and certainly not from issuing frivolous citations, as appears to have happened to Erica.

        Please order the FOEs to stand down from harassing passholders.

      2. That dumb rule that it is considered fare evasion to forget to tap when getting off when you have an Orca pass needs to go away. Many times have I gotten off Link in the tunnel and rushed to transfer to a bus. Didn’t realize I was a fare evader until I read this blog.

      3. It is not fare evasion to fail to tap off. You just get charged the maximum amount.

        However, if you then “tap on” and board again, but your really tapped off, then you can be warned and cited.

        That covers not just passholders, but also riders with a valid transfer, both of which applied to me when I got my warning.

    2. One major reason for these missed taps is that many of the ORCA readers aren’t line-of-sight but are on the side or on a different wall or behind you. If people see the reader and it’s right in front of them, it can remind them to tap if they’re thinking about something else. A couple times when I’ve taken Sounder to Kent, I forgot to tap off because I didn’t see an ORCA reader, and it wasn’t until I was on another bus that I remembered. Also at Beacon Hill Station, the readers are at the side of the elevators, so you may not notice them if you’re going to a middle elevator, and when you’re exiting they’re completely invisible. If we’re not going to have turnstyles, then at least put up a frame that looks like a doorway with a reader at hand; that would minimize the number of missed taps. And at Beacon Hill, put the readers freestanding in front of the elevators rather than on the side.

      1. The readers seem out of the way at most of the tunnel stations. I expect that there would be one right next to each staircase/elevator onto the platform, but I’ve often had to search for them.

        It would make a lot of sense to have an “arch” which you had to walk through on your way into and out of the station that would allow everyone to tap in or tap out as they went through.

      2. or perhaps everyone could ‘clap on – clap off’. It was pretty spiffy for turning lights on, but I doubt it generates much revenue.
        What a hoot watching all those riders clapping every time the doors open.

      3. Aren’t line of sight?

        Hell, if you need to transfer from a bus to Link in the tunnel you need to run upstairs.

      4. No, there’re readers on the platforms. Not in clear locations, definitely, but at least on the platforms.

      5. ORCA card readers are sited by architects or other station designers, all people who don’t ride transit and are thus clueless. Same thing is happening today at Seattle streetcar stations.

  2. There is also a supply-side view to the fare evasion caseload: Supply fewer cases, by making the youth/LIFT fare more affordable, making it the same half fare as the RRFP fare. That youth/LIFT fare discount is painfully shallow, both on Metro and Link. Hopefully, ST Express will be joining the list of services offering a painfully shallow LIFT discount in March, but both ST and Metro need to plan for making that discount deeper as budgetary opportunity arises. This was discussed at great length by the Low-Income Fare Options Advisory Committee.

    Think of all the money that could be saved on fare evasion process serving and court cases, and plug that into reducing the youth/LIFT fare! Not to mention the improved tax revenue by keeping fare evasion off of peoples’ criminal records, given the effect that has on people’s ability to find jobs and housing.

    Or take up TRU’s call for free transit passes for all public school students. That should really help with the caseload.

    1. I think all riders should pay the same fare, then that would put an end to abuse of the fare system.

      No pay, no ride.

      Also, Orca should be scrapped for an already available system that can do NFC payments. This nonsense about Orca2 taking 5 years is ludicrous.

      1. This is Seattle. Nothing can be done quickly unless it involves a sports stadium (and even then, just ask Chris Hansen)

  3. I would think a judge could travel to the different sub-areas one day a month to hear the local cases. Old style circuit courts used to (and probably still do) work like this. The judge would travel through a circuit of remote court houses a few times a year.

    But, yes, I agree with the idea that these shouldn’t be court cases at all. It seems like WSDOT has made a lot of progress by downgrading tolls to a collection issue rather than a legal infraction. If someone has an ORCA card it should be possible to bill them for the missed fare. What now requires court intervention could possibly be handled by email.

    1. Or better yet, teleconference the hearing! Let the judge be on one screen in Shoreline, ST on a screen downtown, and the appellant at a courthouse of her/his choice. Heck, that would be safer for ST and the judge. They should certainly consider ways to have the judge and the parties in different rooms for family law cases that have a history of violence in the courtroom.

      1. That’s unconstitutional; courts have held that the right to confront the witnesses against you means confront them in person, not on teleconference.

      2. And if it is a right, can’t the dueling witnesses agree to waive that right? I’m not saying force citation appellants to be in a different courtroom with the judge. I’m saying offer them the option to appeal remotely.

      3. Hearings can certainly be held via teleconference–many jurisdictions throughout the country do so. There may be restrictions on what type of hearing, or if the ability to have an in-person hearing needs to be waived, but there are no blanket “unconstitutional” provisions for any and all types of hearings.

        One jurisdiction notes the following:

        “Teleconferencing cannot and should not replace court appearances for many types of hearings. It does, however, offer some distinct advantages for those hearings that occur early in a case, and for which there is minimal requirement for attorney/client discussion during the hearing. These advantages include enhanced safety, reduced costs, and improved efficiency.”

        Whether or not this is applicable to the fare “evasion” issue isn’t clear to me (not being a lawyer), but it’s used for anything from probate hearings to bail review, bench warrants and temporary protective hearings in many locations throughout the country.

    2. Seriously, if the court doesn’t travel around the county (circuit style), *it needs to be in Downtown Seattle*. Anything else is obscene.

  4. A $124 fine is nuts when you have valid fare and simply fail to tap. Should be warnings for the first few infractions, then a $10 fine after that.

    $124 is malicious when they already have your damn money.

    1. That’s the way I look at it, Ryan. Though has anybody got actual figures on how many people who have monthly passes have actually had to pay the fine?

      I really think it’s time for a class action lawsuit to speed up the official time-frame for basic justice on this matter to right now. With restitution to everybody fined over this matter.

      There’s something much worse going on here. All over the country, cash-starved municipalities have taken to finding an ever expanding number of ways to get poor people into the criminal justice system over extremely minor charges. Like missed fines for fare evasion.

      Thereby making the defendant liable for an ever increasing amount of money for an ever longer undeserved criminal record.
      It’s been mentioned in small media print that Ferguson Missouri has had such a system in place for years.

      I believe that in the South, this is among the practices known as “African American Squeezing.” Since the Justice Department probably still has personnel and machinery in place to handle similar habits in the police department, a deservedly embarrassing and painful remedy shouldn’t strain Federal resources.

      It’s too bad we can’t have at least a Monorail-type card table at every polling place with a large sign getting the attention of voters and also the agencies responsible next Tuesday. We can argue whether it’s worth losing a close election over this issue.

      But given County Government’s stated time-frame, it’s certainly worth making Mr. Upthegrove and his colleagues think enough transit-advocates think it is.

      Meantime, I’m lawyered up. My first LINK ride every visit, I buy a paper all-day pass. It costs me $2.00. I’d gladly pay the non-reduced $4, or even $5. Call it theft insurance. I think from here on I’ll start saving the tickets, for unloading in shreds on officials’ desks when the time comes.

      Mark Dublin

  5. ” 72 percent of juvenile violations occur in South Seattle or South King County”

    does anyone keep data on where patrols occur? How is it decided where patrols occur? Are the lines patrolled equally? Or is this just more overpolicing of non-whites?

    1. There’s also a question of where the most POP service operates, since fare enforcement is mostly on POP services. By this handy cross-agency comparison:

      South Seattle has part of Central Link (40,000/day); if West Seattle is considered part of South Seattle for this purpose it also has the C Line (8,100/day).

      South King County has part of Central Link (40,000/day), Sounder South (10,500/day), the A Line (10,100/day), and much of the F Line (missing from the chart)

      North Seattle has part of the E Line (13,700/day) and the D Line (11,000/day)

      Shoreline has part of the E Line (13,700/day)

      East King County has the B Line (6,700/day) and part of the F Line (assuming Renton is counted as part of East King for this purpose)

      Many of these routes run into central Seattle and may have fare inspections occur near downtown.

      Based on these numbers you’d expect most of the violations to occur in south Seattle, south King County, and central Seattle.

      1. Yes while not acknowledged in my original knee-jerk statement, I am aware that most POP routes serve these areas, and I do appreciate your stats here.

        My question is based on my heuristic observation on the E and D lines that they are infrequently checked. Compared to Link, where I am frequently checked. I don’t ride the other RR lines enough to know.

        Plus, most Metro drivers will give a transfer to anyone who doesn’t have $. Free rides encouraged on the lowest capacity vehicles, severely punished on high capacity transit?

      2. It wouldn’t surprise me if Link had a different fare-checking frequency than RR, since it’s a different agency, but I couldn’t guess in which direction.

        Between the lack of enforcement after 7:00 p.m. and the continued use of paper transfers (meaning transfer-collection schemes still work, and riders can still haggle a transfer from the driver with partial payment), it wouldn’t surprise me if deliberate fare evaders are ticketed at a higher rate on Link than RR. Then add on the surely higher rate of people that accidentally fail to tap properly on Link/Sounder.

        I don’t think the ticketing numbers are necessarily evidence of intentional bias, but they don’t rule it out. With more north-end riders on Link in the next decade the geographic skew should even out… but as it’s Link that has the biggest problem with honest mistakes leading to tickets, it wouldn’t hurt to put some effort into reducing that.

  6. 1.Readers are not at all rapid ride stations. This is stupid by a huge factor.

    2. If you have a monthly pass, then this is a scam. Oh johnny you didn’t tap, here is a criminal conviction. Thanks for paying the Monthly pass anyway.

    1. At RapidRide “stops” (i.e., those without an ORCA reader), you’re supposed to pay the driver and not enter the back door. The driver will probably not open the back door if nobody is exiting, and if you do enter by it he’ll probably tell you sternly to come up front and pay and not be a fare-evader.

      Homework exercise: estimate the percent of passengers who know the difference between a RapidRide station and a RapidRide stop, or know when they can board in back, or understand how offboard readers interact with one zone/two zone fares peak hours.

      1. Since FOEs aren’t working after 7 pm-ish, the only issue that arises there is that riders can tell the operator they paid off-board, and the operator can choose to tell them to come up front and tap again, or not. Of course, tapping twice for the same ride can mess up the delicately fine-tuned fare apportionment between Metro and ST.

        The 7 pm rule doesn’t work so well when there are passengers trying to board routes C, D, and E downtown after a large evening event. Off-board payment ought to happen then, to keep the buses moving.

      2. ST may have to station FOEs on RapidRide to cite those who pay multiple times for the same Metro ride, depriving ST of its due fare revenue.

  7. Yeah, this should be a “circuit court” type of situation – with space borrowed/rented from local courthouses throughout county.

    Give the judge a laptop, a calendar and a bus pass. There. I fixed it.

  8. There is some contradictory information out there. The Kent reporter article linked from the stb Facebook page states that currently it is only a civil infraction for adults. Though I can’t find it now, I swear I saw a comment from DO yesterday saying the same thing. From the article:

    County Code currently makes the non-payment of bus fare a potential misdemeanor offense for youth….

    Now, fare evasion remains only a civil citation for youth and adults.

      1. I know that. Here’s the thing. I read the KR article, and understood that the current situation was that fare evasion was an infraction for adults but a criminal misdemeanor for juveniles, and that Upthegrove’s legislation would make it an infraction for all parties.

        I read this STB article, and originally took it to say that it was a criminal misdemeanor for both adults and juveniles, and the legislation would make it an infraction for juveniles while remaining a misdemeanor for adults.

        Having re-read the article, it’s possible that is not what is intended to be conveyed. Most of the article addresses where people go to court, but what kind of charge is addressed in this throwaway line:

        (Upthegrove’s legislation also recommended ending the practice of treating fare evasion and failure to pay tickets as a criminal infraction; adults can still be charged with a misdemeanor for failure to pay or show up in court.)

        I read “failure to pay” as referring to a fare, but it is possible that actually referred to failing to pay a fine/citation. If so, I’d definitely suggest it could be more clearly written. Especially as the rest of the article talks about how changes were made that eased the where-to-contest situation for juveniles while shying away from making the same changes for adults, it’s easy to read the article as saying the same thing happened for infraction vs. crime.

        Also, the other articles I’ve seen say this legislation actually passed. In this one, while the headline says “Say goodbye…”, the text says merely that Upthegrove “introduced a motion that will amend the Shoreline Rule, eventually…” Maybe there’s some legislative nuance I’m missing that is also not explained in the article, but if the County has indeed passed this and done it’s part, it’s definitely not clear from reading this.

      2. “11:14 p.m. PDT, Mon October 26, 2015

        Major changes adopted by the metropolitan King County Council would end the policy of criminally charging young people into connection to fare evasion on Metro buses.

        “I was shocked to learn that youth can be charged criminally for fare evasion on Metro buses,” said Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who introduced the motion Monday.

        “Young bus riders should be held accountable for evading a fare but not charged criminally.”

        “County Code currently makes the non-payment of bus fare a potential misdemeanor offense for youth. The charge could also lead to the accused being banned from riding the bus, even if it is their only source of transportation. Now, fare evasion remains only a civil citation for youth and adults. ”
        -KIRO News

        Am I to understand that fare evasion has always been a civil infraction for adults and a criminal misdemeanor for young people?

        I want to be sure of my facts before I say anything more on this one.

        Mark Dublin

  9. This is plain stupidity. The $124 barely, probably doesn’t cover the administrative costs. In other words the fines cover the cost of maintaining the building and all the make work jobs it creates. It’s the same meme that has created our #1 world ranking for incarceration based largely on non-violent drug “busts”. The “criminal” so called “justice” system/machine is big business.

    Bus drivers let people ride for free everyday all the time. And for the most part they are right in doing so; even if unfair in how they decide who to let on and who to boot. Consider that the “fare enforcement officers” are another expense to the system that generate pretty much zero return for the dollars spent. Actually that;’s being optimistic, I’m quite sure the cost exceeds the return on “investment”. But it feds the bureaucratic machine.

    Fare enforcement ‘officers” only purpose should be to improve the “customer” experience. That is they should be available to control/remove/arrest unruly individuals that are creating a problem. And my hunch is that most of those need assistance with mental health rather than a ticket they’ll never pay anyway. Sorry, that’s just my Republican/conservative/capitalist-pig opinion that transit should be driven by customer expectations rather than guberment policy.

    I know the “rational” (it’s got nothing to do with “reason”) is that if we don’t have fare enforcement officers “everyone” will just choose not to pay and the system won’t generate any ‘revenue”. 1st off, fares don’t generate anywhere close to enough “revenue” to pay for the service provided; and that’s OK. The cost of fare enforcement just makes that percentage even smaller. All a fare enforcement employee (shouldn’t be an “officer”) needs to do is apply social pressure by exposing people that are intentionally avoiding payment. This is Seattle after all. Expose them in public and those who can afford it will pay every fare they’ve ever avoided and then some because that’s just the way we are around here ;-)

    1. This comment seems to take as a premise the assumption that fare evasion rates are static, and ceasing to enforce fare evasion would not result in an increase of its incidence. I am skeptical that is the case.

      If we want to go ahead and have a fair free system, and we’re willing to pay for it, fine. But a fare collection system that functions as little more than a tax on honest people is the worst of both worlds.

      1. I’m not saying do away with fare collection “enforcement” but to make it more of a fare “encouragement” system. Monetary fines make no sense because they cost more than they bring in. In fact it’s a complete loss for ST since I’m betting they get zero from fines paid. And the people who actually pay their fines are the honest folk you’re talking about. A homeless person with no income isn’t going to pay a fine.

    2. Bernie, here’s rationale as I understand it:

      1. $124 is lowest fine the court will bother itself collecting.

      2. Transit gets $4. To avoid appearance of issuing fines to line its own pockets.

      3. But transit also says its own low amount is irrelevant since main purpose is to deter evasion.

      To me, one more question nobody’s asking. If transit only gets $4, who exactly gets the other $120? If usual inquiring minds aren’t interested, Justice Department might.

      Like I said above, ending with “Squeezing!”

      Mark Dublin

      1. I’m not sure who “transit” is. Let’s assume it’s ST and not divided up between multiple agencies; although I wouldn’t be surprised if it was that dumb. ST can’t process a $4 transaction and come out in the black. It’s probably already cost them more than $124 to write the ticket.

        I don’t think it’s an intentional evil plot to trap people rather than just plain stupidity and the PR that ST feels they need to show they are ENFORCING fare collection. ST is it’s self an agency primarily based on collecting taxes and funding it’s self. It’s run by a board of politicians that to the person know and care nothing about transit. The only thing most think about is how to promote living in places like Issaquah and Sumner and commuting for cheap into Seattle/Bellevue/Redmond.

  10. Why not be able too contested traffic infractions by mail?

    We once got a parking ticket on the UC-Berkeley campus where my husband was attending a conference. When we called about contesting the ticket when we got back to Seattle, we were told we could have a “trial by written statement.” So he wrote up a page saying basically, “This ticket should be dismissed because the signage was unclear.” After a few weeks we got a letter back saying, “OK. Ticket dismissed.”

  11. Are you aware you could have contested your ticket (as can anyone) by mail? And now, rolled out this year, people can contest tickets online as well. No bus or car ride to court needed–saves money and time for you and the court system.

  12. Bernie,

    I should know exactly how fare revenue is distributed among all the separate transit systems involved. I’m sorry not to have checked this out. But this isn’t my main point.

    What I want to stress has nothing to do with the transit agencies, but my thought that every sector of local government that shares the $120 per ticket has a vested interest in penalties.

    If there’s truly no malicious intent here, I’ve got a suggestion for relieving any suspicion: the court gives the defendant choice of where the money should be donated.

    Harborview Hospital should be first example. Though another one would be having the money returned to the transit system for the specific purpose of helping fund reduced fare programs.

    Mark Dublin

  13. The district court is served by Route 346; it connects with both Route 41 and the E line. So, what was the rationale for the specialization?

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